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If This Is a Man • The Truce
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Archive: Other Books > If This is a Man / The Truce | Primo Levi | 5 stars

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Idit | 1028 comments From Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with its fight to hold to what’s human, to the Nazi Camps.

Primo Levi tells in this two books (If This Is a Man / The Truce) about his year in the work camp in Auschwitz, his 10 days in the empty camp before the Russians arrive, and his year on the roads back home.
It is his Iliad and Odyssey and it is amazing.

In the first page Levi asks - are these still humans? Men fighting for scraps of bread on the floor, with no power or control on his life or his death, and simple dignity.
He describes his year in the lager, his suffering, his strokes of luck, the people around him.
The camp as a tower of babel with prisoners from all over europe with all of their languages. Small (and not small) pettiness, kindnesses, acts of survivals, trying to remain human, trying to remain alive, or give up
His story is devoid of pathos, but is full of humanity.

The last chapter or ‘If this is a man’ is quite different - the Russians are almost there, the Nazis empty the camps, everyone that can walk leave (and is never to be heard from again). But Primo was sick and stayed in the hospital. The camp is deserted and only few hundreds sick prisoners stay.
(At some point he walks around with a blanket around his shoulders trying to help the survival of his roommates, and I couldn’t not think of The Road. (not that it’s the only point))
There are descriptions of the kids that stay with me

The second book is The Truce - about the time after the camp was freed and until Primo Levi arrived back at his home in Italy. The tone of this book is very different.
It is an insane journey in a confused continent at the last days of the war and the months after. The time in Poland and Russia, the people he meets on the way.

Beyond the historical importance of the book and the important obligation to hear the witness of survivors, the book is filled with beautiful insight into the people around him and their situation

~~~~~~

This is a quote from an early part of the book - he is quoting - in his own words - what an older prisoner told him:
"that precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last – the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die."


message 2: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2223 comments Powerful review, Idit - thank you


message 3: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 485 comments I also read If This Is Man and I loved it. Powerful book. I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.


message 4: by Karin (new)

Karin | 6931 comments Wow, this is something--so powerful! I don't know if I can bring myself to read another account of a Nazi camp. Of course, I've said that before and then read another one, but I really try to avoid them now. They were HORRIFIC and I am not going to forget that.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, I love your review. "Are these still human" are words I have seen over and over in regards to the Holocaust. I never tire of the stories and there are many who do. And for good reason, it is difficult to read and as Karin spoke she is never going to forget how horrific it was. I think for me, being born in Israel, a grandchild to survivors, I want to know every story possible.


Idit | 1028 comments Thank you

Growing up in Israel - our life was saturated with stories of holocaust I think from as early preschool probably, and I read many books, and heard survivors speak

But I haven’t read any books for the last 20 years,
And I’m really glad I finally got to Primo Levi. He is one of those names we’ve always heard in regard to holocaust literature.

I found him very unique (but that might be due to the large gap since I last read). He is very measured and accurate and you can see his personality so strongly through the whole ordeal
There’s a chapter where he has a (very rare) leisurely walk with a French guy who likes languages, and Primo tries to teach him Italian by telling from memory a part Dante’s Devine comedy. He describes his excitement over communication and connection, and talk of higher topics than bare survival, and then the distress when he realise the words are slipping from his memory and the walk is coming to an end

I loved how every small thing connected to the question humanity and what it is

I recommend it very warmly. There are of course horrific details, but he, personally, is very worth reading.

Also, surprisingly, the second book, The Truce, is very different. It’s much lighter. About the very indirect odyssey home. The confusion of being stranded, but he builds the story with the daily life that are filled with interesting characters and small stories. And he writes beautifully.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

It most definitely was. Have you been to Yad Vashem? I haven't been since it has been expanded and made better but I went many years ago.
While Primo Levi is a name we heard so often as children I have not read his books but I will now. Thank you for sharing your review.


message 8: by Idit (last edited Aug 08, 2018 05:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Idit | 1028 comments You know what - I can’t remember Yad Vashem. I’m sure I was there in my childhood, but never since.
I went to the museum in Washington DC, but even that was 20 years ago

My strongest impressions were from chats to people who were there - my primary school art teacher, my baby brother’s nanny on a day I was sick from school, my neighbours’ grandma.

Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is coming out as a graphic novel in English next month (it was already published in few languages last year). It was done by the people who did Waltz With Bashir: A Lebanon War Story, and I’m very eagerly waiting for it


message 9: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 485 comments Rachel wrote: "It most definitely was. Have you been to Yad Vashem? I haven't been since it has been expanded and made better but I went many years ago.
While Primo Levi is a name we heard so often as children I..."


Rachel, I went to Yad Vashem on my recent trip to Israel. We took a tour with a guide who was the granddaughter of a survivor. The tour had much more meaning with her personal accounts. One of the things I liked best about the tour was the Righteous Among the Nations tree memorial. Our guide explained that one of the granddaughters of Oskar Schindler's Jews had her Bat Mitzvah there and all the guests placed a rock at the base of his tree. I thought that was such a special story.


message 10: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 485 comments Idit wrote: "You know what - I can’t remember Yad Vashem. I’m sure I was there in my childhood, but never since.
I went to the museum in Washington DC, but even that was 20 years ago

My strongest impressions ..."


Idit thank you for the book recommendation, I will have to look out for it. I had the pleasure of going to the Anne Frank Museum this year on my recent trip to Amsterdam. It was a rewarding experience. Have you been?


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Idit wrote: "You know what - I can’t remember Yad Vashem. I’m sure I was there in my childhood, but never since.
I went to the museum in Washington DC, but even that was 20 years ago

I've heard about that and I think its such a great way to tell the story! I plan on reading it as well.



message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Diane wrote: "Rachel wrote: "It most definitely was. Have you been to Yad Vashem? I haven't been since it has been expanded and made better but I went many years ago.
While Primo Levi is a name we heard so ofte..."


Having a tour guide to go through it is far better. What I love is the handwritten stories of survivors that can be looked at. While they are put away for safekeeping and preservation it is a wonderful piece of history. I have a few family members who wrote their stories and then my husband's mother also wrote of her time. It is touching to see their handwriting and to read each personal story. Some are quite in depth and some are only an overview.


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